Falcons GM on rebuild in Atlanta: “I see a lot of parallels with Buffalo [Bills]”

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The Bills, under the leadership of Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott, have escaped the depths of mediocrity on their way to Super Bowl contention. Before the two men were hired in 2017, Buffalo was unexceptional under Rex Ryan, posting seasons of 7-9, 8-8, and 9-7 — their first winning campaign since 2004. After failing to reach the postseason, though, Terry Pegula, the team’s owner, made a change.

The new regime dealt with more dead cap than any team in the league at the time with minimal cap space, a parting gift from the former regime (sound familiar?). Beane and McDermott made difficult decisions, like moving off Marcell Dareus in the first year, and rode the back of stopgap starter Tyrod Taylor, a slew of bargain free agents, and a few impactful draft picks on their way to the playoffs at 9-7 despite boasting a negative point differential (sound familiar?).

Then, they took a step back in 2018. The Bills were assertive in their pursuit of a franchise quarterback, trading up to land Josh Allen with the seventh overall pick. Even though they were slightly more aggressive in free agency, landing Trent Murphy, Vontae Davis, and Star Lotulelei, Buffalo could only put up a 6-10 record with a far worse point differential than 2017 — expected with a rookie signal caller. However, since then, the Bills have made the playoffs every year with one of the most loaded rosters in the league led by one of the best quarterbacks.

They’ve hit on nearly every decision — from blockbuster trades (Stefon Diggs, moving up for Allen) and homerun draft picks (Tre’Davious White, Dion Dawkins, Matt Milano) to knowing which players to pay (Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer) and which not to (John Brown, LeSean McCoy). Buffalo’s ability to find value in free agency shouldn’t be understated either. This year’s haul of Jamison Crowder, O.J. Howard, Rodger Saffold, DaQuan Jones, and Duke Johnson would improve any team.

Every organization would be thrilled to go through a similar rebuild. And the Falcons’ new regime knows precisely that. At a press conference at the end of last year, Arthur Smith said that he sees the Bills’ trajectory as “not dissimilar to what” Atlanta is “trying to build.” It seems the Falcons’ leadership is all on the same page.

“I see a lot of parallels with Buffalo,” Terry Fontenot said. “They took a step back to take a step forward as they went through their cap issues.”

The Falcons definitely have cap issues. Atlanta is biting the bullet of Matt Ryan‘s record-breaking dead cap hit as well as what’s leftover from Julio Jones‘ bloated contract. However, they are “taking it on the chin now” so the future is brighter in the form of a projected $100+ million in salary cap space in 2023.

“There may be short-term pain. But I see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Fontenot said. “Even in this year, we’re not mailing it in. If we bring in the right dudes made of the right stuff, we’re going to go out there and beat some people.”

Photographer: Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire

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